Questions 3: Your Thoughts on Writing a Series

War of Nytefall: Eradication is the 4th book of this series.  Not much more of a lead in to that for this post.  Mostly because everyone has their own opinion on writing and reading the middle volumes of a series.  The first has all of the introductions of characters and world, so there’s a sense of all new there.  The finale has a sense of closure, so you go for the emotional beats to bring it to the end.  Between those volumes, you need to keep the series moving in a wave-like pattern with rises and falls that will carry the audience from one book to the other.  You need both closure and cliffhangers in order to make things work.  Not an easy task, but maybe we can help each other out.

  1. How do you tackle the middle of a series as either a writer and/or a reader?
  2. What is one ‘DO’ that you would give to someone writing a middle volume of a series?
  3. What is one ‘DO NOT’ that you give them?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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26 Responses to Questions 3: Your Thoughts on Writing a Series

  1. I love these posts, but I’m not a good one to participate today. I’m running into some of these issues with Lanternfish, but haven’t published the second volume yet. With Lizzie and the hat it isn’t a problem, because there is no end game for the series. My lack of series experience is showing when it comes to commenting today.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Not sure I can adequately answer your questions. But here goes:
    1. How do you tackle the middle of a series as either a writer and/or a reader?
    It depends. A trilogy has a certain rhythm, since it is one united story. But a series like Discworld, which has standalone books set in the same world is different. There are many “middle” books. You can read most of them in any order. Many authors have trouble with the second book of a trilogy or a sequel to a book set in the same world (but not necessarily part of a trilogy). If the first book is a bestseller, the second book is under tighter scrutiny. As a reader, I haven’t liked many trilogies, because I’ve been disappointed by the second and third books. (Some of this has to do with publishers’ schedules. You might have taken ten years to write the first book, but you’re only given six months to turn in the second.)
    2. What is one ‘DO’ that you would give to someone writing a middle volume of a series?
    Have enough story to adequately cover three books. Some trilogies really only have enough story for one and a half books, which is why the second books of some trilogies feel devoid of action and why some endings seem unsatisfying.
    3. What is one ‘DO NOT’ that you give them?
    Do not write the ending purely for shock value or to subvert the expectations of readers. Many people hated the last season of Game of Thrones because of plot points that came out of nowhere. Foreshadow the ending somehow so that readers aren’t unpleasantly surprised. Not saying you have to tell the ending. Foreshadow that a good character could take a turn for the bad by showing us tiny cracks in that person’s psyche early on.

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    • Good ones for 2 and 3. Discworld falls into a small category of series. Same world with different stories. So it’s more a setting than an ongoing story arc.

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      • L. Marie says:

        Yes. Discworld is an increasingly rare beast. I think of your Windemere series like Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time series in that you have multiple adventures, but you have a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled. So all of the books lead to that conclusion.

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  3. I don’t mind new characters, plots going in unexpected directions, and stuff like that. But I do mind if middle books change tone or change writing style. Those are two biggies for me, why I’m fond of certain authors.

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  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Add YOUR tips / advice in the comments under Charles’ original blog post

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  5. I tackle the middle of a series as a reader much the same as a stand-alone book. If I read and like it I may move on. If not then no. I’m not too disturbed that things have gone on before the current read.
    The one “do” I would recommend for the writer of the middle of the series is to make certain there are no surprises from the last book that play a key role in the ending. For example a power of one of the characters that is known from the last book but is held to the end in this book and pulled out to save the day.
    One “do not” is over-explain elements of that last book that are critical to the solution in this book. If such overexplaining is needed maybe the story needs to be revised with a different plot point.

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  6. I came back to see what kind of action you got. I’m approaching Lanternfish as a trilogy, so I have that road map to follow. The middle book is where the bottom is going to fall out and leave everyone scrambling. I have that going for me. The last book is kind of a rising from the ashes type tale, and I can work with that. In some ways, Lizzie and the hat are much easier. Each one is a short novel that people don’t have to read in order.

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  7. 1. I approach the middle of a series much as I would the middle of a stand-alone. A series to me – the kind you’re thinking of, where you need to read them in order – is just a long book broken down in to more easily digestable chunks.

    2. Do ensure consistency throughout. Much as with a stand-alone book, rules of how things work, names, etc, shouldn’t change half way through.

    3. Don’t write a series just for the sake of writing one, or stretch out a plot longer than it should be just so you can have x books in your series. I don’t care if a story takes one book or 30 to tell, but only have it be told over the number of books it needs to be.

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  8. floridaborne says:

    I’ll start by staying that I was born weighing 5 pounds, mooning the world. Since that time, I’ve been doing everything backwards.

    I sent my first attempt at a book to a manuscript editor. To her credit, she tried to be kind. One sentence led me on the path to a series of books: The first, second and third levels of hell.

    She wrote, “There is a back story here. Find the back story.”

    As expected, the next story I wrote belonged in the middle of the series, but those three books didn’t seem to go back far enough. After a series of dreams that wouldn’t stop until I wrote them down, I had the first part of the series writing it’s guts out in a matter of days.

    The book I sent to the manuscript editor turned into book 2, the Third Level of Hell. Each level has 6 books.

    Are the books perfect? No. Many are still in draft. Each level has it’s own generation of characters living their entire lives to strive toward a better future that takes over 400 years to achieve. Each has a central theme: A Ruler of the Galaxy trying to push them toward success.

    If this had to be whittled down in one point, I’d have to say that stories write themselves and we are their fingers. If we’re very lucky, the story will resonate with millions of other people.

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  9. Jaq says:

    Do: Write each book as if it were a stand alone, albeit one where I already know the characters from the early books. Give me some closure.

    Do NOT: Leave a cliffhanger ending. I won’t read the next one. I’ll abandon the series right then, especially if it’s the first book.

    Having written a trilogy myself, I think it’s important that each book is mostly self-contained. In fact, either of the first two books of my Goblin trilogy could be a first book. Only the third one follows on in a way that is best read after at least one of the others.

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    • I’m curious. Do you want full closure at the end of one volume or partial? I’m not sure if you mean no cliffhangers whatsoever or no big ones. I’ve read series that have done great cliffhangers, but the volumes come out every few months instead of years.

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